My kids are spending the holidays with their father at their paternal grandparents’ house. Without me.
This is just one of the realities of parenting after divorce. This year, I’m home in Texas while my girls are in Washington state, their father getting a little break from North Carolina to visit his childhood home with the kids.
I’m the custodial parent. I don’t pretend that my 3 weeks of long-distance parenting makes me an expert on the subject. I get to be there for the day-to-day realities of homework, dance lessons and play dates. I get to meet all the kids’ friends, attend school performances, and nurture friendships with my girls’ mentors. I get to go to church with them and witness their arguments. I get to play Tooth Fairy and nutritional consultant. I get to do the bulk of parenting, simply by virtue of physical proximity. I get to be the one to raise our children. That can’t be easy for my ex-husband.
Nevertheless, this 21 day separation has granted me some insight into the reality of parenting when you don’t live near your kids
- Communicate with your children every day. Every. Single. Day. If you can’t telephone, write to them. If you don’t know their address or they’re too young to read, fill notebook after notebook and write to them for the day they’re able to read your letters. That day will come, and you will want to have been a parent every day of their lives.
- Foster individual relationships. Your kids have different needs and interests. Resist the urge to talk at them or to have the same conversation with all your kids. Listen to what each of them has to tell you. Remember what they’re interested in and who their friends are. My girls made friends with a couple of their grandparents’ neighbourhood dogs. You can be sure that I’ll be asking my babies whether they run into their new puppy friends again.
- Maintain discipline. Yes, I’m 2000 miles away. My kids still don’t get to get away with bad manners. I overheard my daughter M yell to her sister to, “Stop that noise!” I wouldn’t let it go until she amended her request to “Please be a little quieter.”
- Be honest. Yes, it’s tempting to present only your best self to your children, especially if you only get a few minutes each day. They can detect inauthenticity. I promise they love you despite your imperfections, just as you love them.
- Resist the urge to lecture. Your time is limited and alienating your children doesn’t gain you anything. Confirm that they want your help before offering it. They may simply want to tell you about a difficult moment or challenge they’ve overcome without asking you for a solution. I’ve noticed that this listening without offering solutions can be especially difficult for male parents talking to female children. That may be just my family, though.
- Don’t share information with others without your child’s permission. My daughter J needed help with a holiday homework assignment but was insistent that she didn’t want to ask her father for help. Being far away, it was very tempting to just ask Daddy to help her out, but all that would have accomplished would have been losing my daughter’s trust. Instead, I helped her as best I could over the phone, locating age-appropriate websites she could use for her research on the city of Seattle. I encouraged her to ask Daddy for help, but promised that I wouldn’t do that for her.
- Be sensitive to their schedule. The fact is that you’re not there and your kids have things to do other than talk to you. When it was obvious to me that my conversation with my daughters was keeping them from going out in the snow, I cut our conversation short with a commitment that they’d tell me all about their snow adventures.
Have your children ever been away from you? How do you parent them at a distance?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.